Home Secretary to dramtically reduce police stop-and-search powers
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities
Black people 'seven times more likely' to be stopped and searched by police
Police stop-and-search powers were dramatically curbed today as Home Secretary Theresa May ruled they should only be used against suspected terrorists.
The move was welcomed by civil liberties campaigners, coming after years of complaints that police misused the anti-terror laws to interrogate law-abiding citizens.
It follows a recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that the power to search people without suspicion - under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 - was illegal.
Mrs May told the Commons today that the Government could not appeal the judgment - and would not have done even if it could.
"I can therefore tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of Section 44 in contravention of the European Court's ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of our civil liberties," she said.
She said in future Section 44 would only be available where it was "necessary", rather than "expedient" to prevent terrorism.
And she was introducing a new "suspicion threshold" which would limit the use of stop-and-search powers in the future.
"Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using Section 44 powers, instead they will have to rely on Section 43 powers which require officers to reasonably suspect the person to be a terrorist.
"Officers will only be able to use Section 44 in relation to the search of vehicles.
"I will only confirm these authorisations where they are considered to be necessary and officers will only be able to use them when they have reasonable suspicion."
The changes will be in force until a wide-ranging review of counter-terror legislation by the Government has been completed and acted upon.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, backed the move, saying Section
44 had "criminalised and alienated more people than it ever protected"
"We argued against it for ten years and spent the last seven challenging it all the way to the Court of Human Rights," she said.
"It is a blanket and secretive power that has been used against school kids, journalists, peace protesters and a disproportionate number of young black men.
"To our knowledge, it has never helped catch a single terrorist. This is a very important day for personal privacy, protest rights and race equality in Britain."
Lord Carlile, the Government's independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation, said Section 44 had been ineffective in combating terrorism, had caused community tensions and was used "arbitrarily and for incorrect purposes".
"Section 44 has given a lot of trouble and, in any event, it's now illegal," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.
"You don't have to search people to discourage terrorists, the evident availability of police officers in the area, obvious uniformed policing, is just as much of a deterrent."
The EHRC ruling came in January in a case brought by two Londoners who were stopped and questioned by police near an arms fair in the city in 2003.
Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton were stopped and searched on the same day in the area of a Defence Systems and Equipment International Exhibition at the ExCel Centre in Docklands, where there had already been protests and demonstrations.
Nothing incriminating was found on either of them and they went to court questioning the legality of stop and search powers.
Shadow home secretary Alan Johnson said he was "deeply concerned" about the restriction of Section 44 to searches of vehicles.
"We have the prospect in this country of the police being asked to continue to protect us with fewer officers, diminished resources and restricted powers," Mr Johnson told the Home Secretary.
"You need to understand that it is not the coalition agreement that will keep the public safe, it's the security services and the police.
"The statement today will undoubtedly make their job more difficult."
Alex Deane, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "The last Government's random stop and search powers were a systematic abuse of privacy and freedom, as the European Court made clear.
"Theresa May's new guidelines are therefore welcome - to a point.
"Random stop and search should be ruled out altogether, not left hanging on an unnecessary review."